In the weeks leading up to this year's Masters, all Augusta had a
case of the yips. The local anxiety couldn't have run much higher
if a team of surgeons had amputated Tiger's leg at the knee. Or
if Saddam Hussein had been spotted leaning into a plate of
biscuits and gravy at the Waffle House on Washington Road. ¬∂
Augusta didn't need Saddam. It had Martha Burk.
By mid-February a lot of people in town couldn't get a cold beer
past their jaws without first cursing her name. Martha! Martha
Burk. Damn that woman! A barroom philosopher named Claude Finch,
holding forth past midnight in a scarred ruin of a strip joint
called Baby Dolls, described Burk's offense against Augusta this
way: "Woman come down here to dump horse apples in the punch
bowl? With protesters? She oughta be shot."
If anything, the Washington, D.C.-based feminist who has mounted
an assault on Hootie Johnson and the all-male Augusta National
Golf Club is more reviled in the rough-edged roadhouses,
starched-linen French cafes and tense hotel booking offices of
Greater Augusta than she is at Bobby Jones's golf shrine down
Magnolia Lane. Whatever validity Burk's argument with the club
may have, that dog don't hunt in a rock-ribbed old Southern town
whose gift for charm is counterbalanced by its eye for profit.
Augusta recoiled this winter when the Burk Affair provoked a
racial stalemate in local government over the issuance of
public-protest permits. Five white county commissioners wanted to
stiffen Augusta's political demonstration ordinance; five black
commissioners wanted to leave it alone. Mayor Bob Young, who's a
former Augusta TV personality--and who's white--finally settled the
flap with a tiebreaking vote for a new law. Protest applicants
must now wait 20 days for permit decisions.
April 7, 2003
Within 20 minutes of that ruling, assorted profiteers and
publicity hounds started lining up at the Masters trough. An
Augusta restaurant manager formed a group called Women Against
Martha Burk. An out-of-work marketing exec from Tampa who calls
himself the Anti-Burk vowed "to do to Martha what she's doing to
Hootie." Most distressing, J.J. Harper, a 39-year-old computer
repairman from Cordele, Ga., pledged his undying (and unwelcome)
support for Augusta National's all-male membership policy. Harper
claims he's "the Imperial Wizard of the American White Knights of
the Ku Klux Klan"--a pretty fancy title for what amounts to a
one-man, one-sheet operation. In all, nine groups filled out the
appropriate papers seeking to demonstrate.
For ordinary Augustans the Cirque de Burk has turned into a
nightmare. Just once a year, their otherwise obscure city on the
Savannah River grabs the international spotlight and gets the
chance to plump up its accounts. While some minority citizens
support Burk--one African-American newspaper columnist equated the
new protest ordinance with fire hoses turned on demonstrators in
the civil rights era--most Augustans think social turmoil at the
National just won't do. Caught between feminists wearing burkas
and throwbacks hiding under pointy hoods, they're pretty well
The owners and agents who rent out private houses during Masters
week at rates that would startle the Sultan of Brunei judge
Martha Burk the ruin of their livelihoods. Most Augusta caterers
would gladly stuff her head in a pot of fried okra. The
entrepreneurs who import limo-loads of hookers from Atlanta and
South Carolina every April would relish putting a pound of her
flesh on sale. Never mind the swoon on Wall Street. Little
matter, that thing in the Persian Gulf. Hurricane Martha is
ripping through the azaleas, the most unwelcome visitor to
Georgia since General Sherman. Oh, and that Jesse Jackson. How in
hell did his cat get in this fight?
Ask snowy-haired Dave Broderick about the gloomier possibilities
of Masters week 2003, and he glowers like a two-stroke leader who
has duck-hooked his tee shot. "If that woman interferes with me
or any of my clients," he says with measured ferocity, "I will go
after her personally and bring criminal suit. If Jesse Jackson
stands in my way, I'll knock his ass down." Broderick's interest
in Augusta is keen. His Kansas City, Mo.-based Broderick
SportsGroup plans corporate events at major golf tournaments, and
he does 35% to 40% of his business at the Masters.
Consider the compound effects of a wounded economy and what Burk
calls "political psychology." When the predominantly male
corporate posses from Acme Widget and Velociraptor Electronics
descend on Augusta this year, they will find many of their
golf-loving brethren missing in action. Some of the 30 or so
companies Burk has pressured to rethink Hootie and the Boys have
cut back on their highly prized tournament badges. Some have
vanished altogether. The absence of giant IBM, Broderick
estimates, will mean 400 fewer guests in Augusta this year, and
30 to 40 lost house rentals--at $5,000 to $7,000 apiece. "What
this woman is doing," he says, "is a punch in the nose to
Augusta." By early March, badge futures had plummeted on
Augusta's gray market. Want the practice rounds and all four
tournament days for only three grand? You got it. Here, we'll
throw in some sunscreen.
Meanwhile, restaurateurs were pondering how much shrimp to order
for early April, and hoteliers worried about occupancy rates. Kim
Powell, director of sales and marketing at the 145-room Hampton
Inn on Washington Road, less than a mile from Augusta National,
hopes to be full for Masters week. Her regular corporate clients
were slow to book, so she relaxed the hotel's rigid rules
requiring full payment in advance. During the tournament, a $79
room goes for $275--as long as you take it for at least five
nights--and at those rates Masters week traditionally accounts for
15% of the Hampton's annual gross. Masters week revenues were
down in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Powell
fears that this year might not be much better.
Still, the bright side. "If protesters come, they'll have to eat
and sleep somewhere too," Powell says with a glint in her eye.
"And pay the same prices as everybody else."
Even in the worst of times, though, the Augusta hospitality
merchant shows a courtesan's instinct to please, and the veterans
understand that nothing short of a nuclear blast at Amen Corner
could blunt the Masters crowd's primal male urges--to drink, to
bond, to watch Davis Love III stiff a four-iron. If some of the
fellas work up an appetite for sin, well, that demand can be met
First, to table. Dining out in Augusta is nothing like Paris, and
it doesn't measure up to Savannah, the city's pretty and
much-envied rival to the south. But horizons have expanded. In
Billy Casper's or Tony Lema's day, dinner during Masters week
meant fried chicken, a mess of collard greens and nine Early
Times on the rocks. Now you can get crawfish etouffee and a nice
little white Burgundy at the French Market Grille in the Surrey
Center, an upscale mall of restaurants and bars that teems with
half-soused humanity all week long. You can hang around the sushi
bar at Bambu, while back in the kitchen the chef conducts some
new experiment in French-Asian fusion. Or try La Maison on
Telfair, where the Dover sole is said to be divine. Close to the
gates of Augusta National, you'll now find a breakfast nook
called Mally's Bagels-N-Grits, which represents the kind of mixed
marriage old Augusta might have frowned upon.
Traditionalists often hazard their first solid food of the day
out at the tournament--in the form of Augusta National's hallowed
pimiento cheese sandwich, a remembrance of things past that's
remained the same since Horton Smith and the plus-fours set first
teed off in 1934. Still crave some good ol' throw-down Southern
cooking? Try a no-fuss establishment like Fatsville Chow, on
Laney Walker Boulevard, or Hot Foods by Calvin. Out in South
Augusta there's Sconyers Bar-B-Que, a huge barn of a place owned
by a former Augusta mayor. Downtown, Luigi's sells several acres
of eggplant parmesan during Masters week, but its claim to
something like fame lies elsewhere: Luigi is the visionary who
introduced to benighted Augusta a foreign delicacy called pizza.
Come Masters week, getting your dinner group into Calvert's or
Hooters or any other place within a mile of the National is
tougher than picking the right club on 12. Scoring a table at
T-Bonz is next to impossible. Ever since Fred Couples started
talking up the place a dozen years ago, this weather-beaten
little steakhouse on the garish franchise strip of Washington
Road has been adopted by fans, players and media as their
favorite rumpus room and confessional. It's a madhouse during the
practice rounds, when a young, hard-drinking crowd pours in.
Later in the week, when the older, more staid group arrives, it
tapers off to a mere frenzy.
T-Bonz is the place where the winning Masters caddie always picks
up the bar tabs of the other caddies on Sunday night. Last year's
total: $300. It's where Fuzzy Zoeller tries out new material and
Colin Montgomerie makes new American friends. It's also the place
where more than one crestfallen Masters runner-up has nailed his
butt to a barstool under the portrait of Nixon and the bust of
Elvis and tried to drink all the whiskey in Georgia--until
sympathetic management finally turns the brokenhearted one out
into the dawn. Here, players get preferential treatment and
nobody complains, except for one patron who took offense a couple
of years back when Ernie Els strode to the front of the line. The
Big Easy's response, delivered with courteous aplomb: "What did
you shoot today, ma'am?"
Like most Augusta establishments, T-Bonz cuts down its menu and
jacks up its prices during Masters week. The aptly named drunken
ribeye, as drenched in bourbon as some of the diners who order
it, is now $21, up from $16. But that doesn't bother the teeming
crowds eating and drinking under the bleary gaze of a big Texas
longhorn. It doesn't bother the Mardi Gras-sized multitudes
guzzling beer in the parking lot while waiting two or three hours
to get in. Owner Mark Cumins says he serves 900 dinners on a good
Masters night, three times his normal Friday volume. Anyone who
can total up the drinks should teach math at Georgia Tech.
Because T-Bonz is the headquarters of Masters week after dark,
you never know who will pop in for a cold one. Augusta-raised
soul singer James Brown loves the place--even has his own corner
table. But if Martha Burk & Co. happen onto the property with
demonstration in mind, Cumins says they will be politely asked to
leave. He sees his Masters regulars as "men who live by their own
rules, big business people with a lot of money who are used to
getting their own way." Their own way probably doesn't include
having to detour around an army of protesters gotten up in green
burkas calculated to mock the green jackets proudly worn by icons
such as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Damn that woman!
Augusta has a lot more Baptist churches than hip martini bars,
and nightlife in the old town still tends toward karaoke, dart
tournaments and area rock bands. Even during Masters week the
dancing in popular discotheques like Coconuts or Cadillacs looks
contentedly out-of-date, while the dancing in any of the
half-dozen battered joints downtown features a bewildering array
of body shapes--as if the produce section at a supermarket had
suddenly come to life, gyrating in red glow.
Augusta's more upscale venues include D Timm's Jazz Cafe, the
piano bar at Michael's (next door to T-Bonz) and Le Cafe Du Teau,
a dark-walled restaurant-cum-art gallery that has a comfortably
lived-in look. Among other things, Le Cafe Du Teau serves up a
nice veal chop with wild mushroom and cognac sauce. There's also
music five nights a week. Open for 26 years, the cafe remains one
of the few night spots in Augusta where blacks and whites mingle
without self-consciousness. Augusta still has a noticeable racial
divide, and many black clubs and restaurants--especially those
some distance from the golf course--don't share the Masters week
wealth. Retired Army sergeant Nat Williams, a regular at a bar
and discotheque called Harpo's, looked skeptical when asked about
the tournament's impact on that establishment. "I don't play
golf," he said, "and I don't care about it, although I do pay
more attention since Tiger came up. The guys who come in here who
do play usually go up to Washington Road during the Masters. They
want to see the players."
Restaurateur Donn Du Teau calls the Burk flap "a major
distraction," but he still expected his dinner book to be full by
April. In his place look for David Frost, Nick Faldo, CBS color
man David Feherty and the governors of several Yankee states.
Buzz Clifford, who's been playing Du Teau's woefully out-of-tune
baby grand for 13 years, has only one complaint about Masters
week: Jammed-in music lovers can't get to the tip jar.
Anyone still thirsty after a fine dinner can grab the elevator up
to the Eagle's Nest, a penthouse perch on the 13th floor of
downtown's Ramada Plaza Hotel. The jukebox offerings include Ray
Charles's Georgia on My Mind, and the picture windows afford a
panoramic view of a church, a parking lot and the winking neon of
the Marine Room, Augusta's third-most-popular strip joint.
The farther nighthawks stray from Washington Road, the quieter
Augusta gets. Deborah Rodriguez, who owns Yo Pizza in Daniel
Village, across from the secondary airport where all the
corporate jets are huddled, says her trade actually falls off
during Masters week. That's because a lot of her regulars rent
their houses and split town to loll on the beach in South
Carolina or see shows up in New York City. But Yo has its special
Masters moments too: Every year, Arnold Palmer's dentist, Howdy
Giles, drops by. That's more than R.W. Miller can claim.
Proprietor of the hard-used Club Barcelona way south on Peach
Orchard Road, Miller remembers a time when tournament badges went
begging at eight bucks apiece, but he can't remember the last
time anyone even distantly connected with the tournament came
into his place. An old golf hustler himself, Miller says he might
have Masters Sunday on his TV this year. But only if there's no
Augusta is still so anchored in Old South reverie that the
occasional letter to the editor will debate Abraham Lincoln's
conduct of the Civil War, and hard-core golf fans discuss
Sarazen's double eagle as if it happened last week. It's also a
place where business folk and law enforcement cozied up like
chicken 'n' dumplin's--especially when it came to trifles like
liquor laws and the pleasures of the flesh. In the name of
goodwill and economic success, Du Teau acknowledges, the police
"kind of turned their heads."
But that brand of Augusta hospitality suffered a major setback in
February 2002, when two members of the Richmond County Sheriff's
Office vice squad pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges.
Together, Stoney Turnage and Roderick Berry had 39 years on the
force, but now Turnage is in prison for taking bribes from a
convicted felon who had been shipping prostitutes from the
Atlanta area to Augusta, and Berry has been just released. The
officers' swag? A box of Cuban cigars, $2,000 in cash and, yes, a
pair of Masters badges.
Since last spring, the new head of the vice squad, Sgt. Greg
Smith, has closed down at least seven local escort services,
including one imaginative outfit that was supplying lovely
companions to its eager clientele without taking the trouble to
mention they were transvestites. Last August county police
rounded up 58 suspects in a major drug bust, and they turned up
the heat on a bar-restaurant out on Tobacco Road known less for
the quality of its cuisine than for the 42 knife fights, car
thefts, hit-and-runs and assorted other incidents that occurred
on its grounds in one four-month span.
Masters week hasn't been immune to the crackdown. Last year
officers dispersed wee-hours revelers in several restaurant
parking lots on Washington Road and put the screws to
saloonkeepers accustomed to expanding the legal service hours
beyond the usual 2:30 a.m. Augusta isn't running out of fun
tickets yet, but revelers may be slipping into their jammies a
bit earlier this year.
Then again, a woman some call the Heidi Fleiss of Augusta says
she is going ahead with her plans to bring four girls in from
South Carolina to work the Masters. In her heyday it would have
been more, but the H.F. of A. has downsized. She's in the
hospitality business, too, the attractive redhead explains, and
there's a very good chance that men who've left both their wives
and their inhibitions at home will be burning up the phone lines
again this year. The H.F. of A. says that's simply human
nature--especially during the Masters. "That whole week is a
fantasy," she says, "and anything goes as long as you don't make
a complete fool of yourself."
Like almost everyone else in Augusta, she understands the
emotional tug of the world's most prestigious golf tournament.
"It's like a holy event, an event some people have dreamed of
seeing all their lives," she says. "They are awestruck. You can
see the rapture on their faces." Should the rapture of watching
Phil Mickelson birdie number 17 prove insufficient, she'll be
happy to send a girl over to your rented house for $200 an hour.
"I'm afraid," the H.F. of A. concludes, "that a lot of wives
don't realize what kind of a smorgasbord is going on down here."
Translation: She's not the only madam in town.
Before the bourbon and prime rib were laid in and the first ball
teed up, Augusta indulged in some jittery pre-Masters
entertainments. From Broad Street to the Bobby Jones Expressway,
the air fairly crackled with Martha Rumors. Have you heard? That
woman's jamming the airlines with false reservations so the real
fans can't get here. Know what? Waiter over in Surrey Center came
this close to pouring boiling soup in Martha Burk's lap when she
was here scouting locations. Heard the latest? The National is
going to change the entry gates at the last minute to fake out
Burk. Listen. It's not going to be green burkas. They're going to
wear Hootie masks.
In any event, the circus would boast at least three rings. Martha
Burk and her demonstrators vowed to bring Hootie low. The one-man
Klan, J.J. Harper, promised to be in Augusta on Masters week. So
did Tampa's Todd Manzi, the Anti-Burk whose six-month
Internet-based crusade against the feminist comes furnished with
his own line of sloganized baseball caps (IT TAKES BALLS TO BE A
MEMBER), golf balls and shirts, and the fervent belief that
"while I can be easily dismissed for my profit motive, I deserve
more attention than I get." Manzi's dream? A plug on the Rush
Limbaugh Show. His wife's fondest wish? That he goes back to work.
In the end the Burk Affair may have no more staying power than an
overheated sales manager from Cleveland lying down with a hooker
from Charleston. Over the years, the city of Augusta has been
inundated by flood a half-dozen times and survived. General
Sherman may have spared the place his torch, but in 1916 a
downtown fire engulfed 746 buildings. The city got through that
too. So Augustans believe their town and the unshakable
institution that is the Masters will weather Hurricane Martha and
move on. Restaurateur Cumins calls the whole mess "a hiccup" and
says, "This, too, will pass." Bathed in the red glow of Baby
Dolls, Claude Finch dismisses the political fevers of the moment
another way. Quoth the philosopher: "You don't sink a battleship
with no squirrel gun."
Augusta's best bets for food and drink during the Masters
In the Partridge Inn, offers sushi as well as French-Asian fusion.
2110 WALTON WAY
FRENCH MARKET GRILLE
Surrounded by the Surrey Center hubbub, a sophisticated respite.
425 HIGHLAND AVE.
D TIMM'S JAZZ CAFE
An elegant downtown club, and you can check out the Riverwalk.
302 SIXTH ST.
HOT FOODS BY CALVIN
Nothing fancy, but heapin' helpings of real Southern soul food.
(Try the stewed oxtails.)
2027 BROAD STREET
Headquarters of Masters week after dark, but expect a long wait.
2856 WASHINGTON ROAD
The former mayor's joint. Big enough to handle Masters crush.
2250 SCONYERS WAY
LE CAFE DU TEAU
Good seafood, music and, rare for Augusta, cross-cultural mingling.
1855 CENTRAL AVE.
Take in the view from the top (13th) floor of one of the tallest
buildings in town.
640 BROAD STREET
"Woman come here to dump horse apples in the punch bowl?" says a
barroom philosopher. "She oughta be shot."
"The Imperial Wizard of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux
Klan" is a big title for a one-sheet operation.
"If Jesse Jackson stands in my way, I'll knock his ass down," says
Broderick, a Kansas City-based ticket broker.
"If protesters come, they'll have to eat and sleep somewhere too,"
says Powell. "And pay the same prices."
"Men who live by their own rules ... who are used to getting
their way," is how Cumins describes his T-Bonz regulars.
"I'm afraid that a lot of wives don't realize what kind of a
smorgasbord is going on down here," says the H.F. of A.